Originally, you could get into the German Parliament simply by standing in line in front of the building. It was a very powerful symbol for the Parliament, representing the German nation, being open-minded. But for security reasons, since 2010 you need to register personally and in advance on the website of the Parliament's visitors' service, using the following link:
“In advance" means for them at least two working days (Monday to Friday, unless it's a Christian holiday) before your visit. This is however just a prerequisite and doesn't mean they will actually have any availability if you do it so late, so the earlier you do it, the higher your chances are to get what you want at a time convenient to you (the earliest time to apply is explained below).
As you can see on their website, there are three options. The “lectures held in the visitors’ gallery" are about the way the German Parliament works and would be considered uninteresting by most tourists. You are probably interested in one of the last two options: “Guided tours followed by a visit to the dome" or just the “visit to the dome".
In both cases you'll visit the dome designed by the British architect Norman Foster. The only difference is therefore the tour, i.e. whether you'll go straight to the dome for an overview of the city or have a guided tour within the building before going up to the roof.
Personally, we think the tour is fascinating and definitely worth the 90 minutes it usually takes. It is done by the Parliament's own guides (not by external guides such as us) and includes many interesting aspects such as the history of the building itself, its architecture and current design, the parliamentary system in Germany as well as the Parliament's own art collection. It's therefore our recommendation to you to book the tour if you can and not just the dome.
Unlike some other European Parliaments, the tours given in the German one are free of charge. However, the number of visitors that can be taken on such tours each day or week is limited, so it is harder to get available places for a tour than just a visit to the dome. But let's look at it positively: If you can't make a reservation for the tour, you might still be able to get one for the dome.
Having said that, you can try to get a tour earlier than just the dome:
Requests for guided tours can only be submitted for the current month and the following two months.
Requests to visit the dome can only be submitted for the current month and the following month.
The registration process on their website enables you to prioritize different dates and times for your visit (in case they cannot accommodate you according to your initial preference). It also requires you to enter your personal details such as your birth date and ends with a confirmation sent to you by mail - but this first confirmation just confirms the fact that you applied correctly. To actually get into the Parliament, you need to wait for the second confirmation. Only the second one means that you were registered successfully. It will include a PDF attachment with the specific date & time assigned to you.
Some people get this last confirmation (with the PDF file attached) quickly, even less than an hour after filling the form. Others need to wait longer, sometimes several days. We've even been told about people who had to wait for weeks, but eventually did get the desired permission to go into the Parliament. We don't know what the reasons might be, but we guess it could have something to do with security and some checks that need to be done. After all, security issues were the reason for making everybody register in advance to begin with, and that's why you had to give them your personal details when applying.
If you can't get anything at all using their website (i.e. no availability during your stay), there are two other ways to get into the Parliament:
There's a nice (good, but not exceptional) rooftop restaurant right next to the dome. If you make a reservation there, they will take care of your security arrangements. You will then be taken directly to the restaurant and seated at your table, so you will need to eat there. But you will be able to walk up into the dome afterwards. They have a changing menu for different times of the day, for example coffee and cake in the afternoon, so it's doesn't have to be a whole meal. But naturally, this only works if they actually have an available table for you, which is quite often not the case, especially when contacting them at short notice. Nevertheless it's worth trying:
In 2012, the visitors' service of the Parliament decided to ease the process a bit for people who are already in Berlin and therefore can no longer apply “in advance", i.e. at least two working days before their visit. Outside the Reichstag building is a branch of the visitors' service, located to the south-west of the building across the street (called Scheidemannstraße). You can apply there for a visit, which might be made possible for you, depending on how many preregistered visitors are expected. This kind of admission is given for visits that can no longer be done on-line, meaning on the next two days as well as on the same day, yet never immediately (for security reasons), such visits may only take place at least two hours after you applied at that external branch of the visitors' service. The branch is open daily from 8 am to 8 pm. You'll need to have your passport at hand and spend some time standing in line (it's often quite long).
Quite often we're asked if we have any contacts at the visitors' service to help people bypass all this, for example to get a tour even if the website doesn't show any availability. Even if we had such contacts, that's not the way things are done in Germany, let alone in the Parliament...
If you get the guided tour, you obviously don't need us for that. But it's also a good idea to make the visit on your own when it's just about the dome. Since there's a whole process when going into the building (security checks, waiting in line etc.) and also when leaving (waiting in line for the elevator), we recommend that you visit the dome after our tour or before it, depending on their availability. This way, we can use our time together much better. If our specific tour should include the Parliament district, we will discuss the important aspects during our tour without entering the building. Nevertheless, if you don't care about the time it takes and would still like to include the dome in our tour, then it is naturally possible - provided you request this explicitly and do so early enough for making the necessary arrangements as described above.
The Parliament itself, by the way, is no longer called the “Reichstag". This old name was in official use as long as the German Reich existed, namely until its collapse in 1945, when Hitler's Germany lost the war. The term “Reich", however, was not invented by Hitler. The German democracy before Hitler, also known as the “Weimar republic", was officially called the German Reich and its Parliament was the Reichstag. Nevertheless, this term was indeed abused by Hitler (the “Third Reich") and was therefore replaced in 1949 by a different term with a similar meaning, namely the “Bund", which literally means a federation. Nowadays, the Parliament of the German “Bund" is the “Bundestag". The “Reichstag" as an institution doesn't exist anymore, all that's left is the old Reichstag building. It is now the most important one out of 23 buildings, in which the Bundestag resides. So actually, you will not be visiting the Reichstag itself, but rather the Reichstag building of the German Bundestag.
Above: The redesigned building of the former Reichstag, now a part of the Bundestag